My building's bed-wetting problem
January 2, 2009 9:42 AM   Subscribe

I returned home from a week-long vacation to discover a hole in the ceiling of my apartment and water dripping onto my futon. Should I ask my landlord to pay to replace my damaged furniture? Or, since I don’t have renter’s insurance, am I just out of luck?

The radiator in the apartment above mine had a crack in it, and had probably been dripping water for quite some time. As a result, part of the ceiling in the corner of my apartment collapsed – an area about twelve by thirty inches, more or less. It’s not a complete see-through-to-the-upstairs-neighbors hole, but it’s definitely a hole.

I am not sure when this happened, only that it happened while I was on vacation. I don’t recall any evidence of water damage in that area of the ceiling before I left.

Maintenance has fixed the radiator and cleaned up nearly all of the debris, for which I am grateful, and they will be patching the hole up within the next couple of days after everything’s dried out.

Not a lot was damaged, but about a foot of my futon mattress (a good one, with springs) got pretty wet, in addition to an electric blanket. A couple of other blankets got a tiny bit of water on them, but they’re washable/inexpensive, so I’m not too worried about those.

Friends and family have suggested I write to my management company detailing what was damaged and asking for reimbursement. I’ve taken some pictures in case I follow through with this. It’s probably a couple hundred dollars – I would research this more and have a concrete and reasonable estimate.

Of course, I’ve been one of those “durpa durpa who needs renter’s insurance? Holes in the ceiling don’t happen to ME!” types, so I wouldn’t be surprised if their response was “sorry chickie, that’s what renter’s insurance is for, we can’t do anything.” However, the damage to my futon and blanket was a direct result of a building maintenance issue, so I’m thinking it’s not unreasonable to ask.

Or is it?

And do I need a lawyer for this? I’ve never needed legal help before.

I live in Chicago; I like my apartment and management a lot and am likely to renew my lease, so I don’t want to strain relations. If my stuff doesn’t get replaced, it’s not the end of the world, but it would be nice.

I’d appreciate any advice you might have. Thanks as always!
posted by Metroid Baby to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
Renter's insurance has deductibles in the $250-500 range so it probably wouldn't have been useful here. Same problem with a lawyer, you're just not talking large enough sums.
posted by smackfu at 9:47 AM on January 2, 2009

If you had renter's insurance, they would have paid you, then went to the landlord and leaned on them for reimbursement.

So go to the landlord on your own. List *everything* that was even slightly damaged - the box of tissues on your end table, all blankets (not just the electric), etc. When they say wtf, some old blankets, clain diligence. Then you look reasonable when you say, well, don't worry 'bout those things, but what of my futon?
posted by notsnot at 9:49 AM on January 2, 2009

I'm about as experienced with this stuff as you are, and am likewise in the durpa durpa boat with renter's insurance, but I'd say that being polite and asking is not such a bad idea. If I were you I would refrain from calling in a lawyer or getting at all nasty, esp if you like your place. In my experience it's hard enough getting a landlord to fix a hole in the ceiling, let alone replace anything additional. Anyway, it sounds like you have a good relationship with your landlord, so I would suggest that when you speak to them about the hole just mention the damaged items. You could even ask whether or not they have suggestions on what to do to prevent such things in the future, like renter's insurance.

Don't be surprised if they say no, but if you're kind enough they might be willing to help out a bit.
posted by big open mouth at 9:53 AM on January 2, 2009

I'd first ask the landlord / bldg manager. I'd ask in such a way that doesn't put this person on the defensive (eg., do you have any kind of insurance that covers damage to a tenants property? Just curious because my xyz got drenched from this.).

Ask 311 or a tenants council. Chances are, unless you can very clearly show this is the result of negligence, you won't be compensated. Also, estimate clearly and fairly the amount of the damage --and be consistent about this number.

If you're really nice and cooperative about the whole thing just ask again later on... "would it be fair if I took a couple hundred off rent this month?"

Just be prepared to accept NO to all of the above. You'll have to take it with a smile and just move on... based on how you closed the question you're obviously not looking for a fight.
posted by ezekieldas at 9:55 AM on January 2, 2009

What does your lease say? In this example, provided by the Chicago Council of Lawyers, says this:

"14. LANDLORD TO MAINTAIN. Landlord, at all times during the term hereof, shall maintain the premises in compliance with all applicable provisions of the Chicago Municipal Code and shall promptly make any and all repairs necessary to fulfill this obligation.

. . . .

33. RESIDENT TO INSURE. Landlord agrees that Tenant may carry such personal or property insurance as Tenant deems necessary. Tenant further agrees that except for instances of failure to maintain or repair the Apartment and the Building as required in Paragraph 14 or elsewhere hereunder, or negligence or misconduct of Landlord, its agents or employees, Landlord, its agents and employees shall not be liable for any damage to the person or property of tenant."
posted by Houstonian at 10:09 AM on January 2, 2009

Your landlord certainly has insurace that covers his liability for damages to you, and others.

You really aren't talking about much money here, but it is completely reasonable to ask for a reimbusement for actual damages, if you can calculate them.

Damp is not damaged, of course. If you are only talking a few bux, you'll have to trade off the cost of the material against any slight damage to your relationship with the landlord.

You might want to approach them very kindly with the actual damages. Perhaps ask for an equivalent 1 month reduction in rent?

It's not a good idea to go through life expecting to get paid for every tiny misfortune, but it is also not a good idea to train yourself in just accepting whatever is laid at your feet. If you don't ask, you don't know. They may be quite willing to help. Consider the project a test of your negotiating skills and see what you can accomplish. There's no need to be nasty, arbitrary, mean, overly insistent. Just be kind, direct.
posted by FauxScot at 10:46 AM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Write a letter, but phrase it in terms of either a one-time or prorated reduction in rent totaling the cost of replacing the mattress, and stress the inconvenience and damage to the apartment and your belongings, rather than "Yo dude, my futon!"

Since it is a property management firm, the idea that they would cut you a check is completely out of the question. We're talking alien notion there. They probably don't even know where the check book is.

But if you start talking in terms of rent reduction or whatever, then their ears may perk up. Also, if you're close to renewing, maybe you can go ahead and sign a new lease with a functional rent reduction built in. (Keep in mind that they are going to raise your rent by whatever the legal limit is anyway, so if you renew at the current rate, you may actually be saving money in the long run.)

The point is, get creative about compensation.
posted by wfrgms at 11:31 AM on January 2, 2009

Going out on a limb, just in case...if you happen to be a student (or somehow still dependent on your parents), they're personal property or homeowners insurance might be providing you with renter's insurance without you knowing (mine did, and it was a lifesaver when my apartment burnt down).
posted by messylissa at 2:46 PM on January 2, 2009

Dear God. That should read "their personal property or homeowners insurance."

posted by messylissa at 2:47 PM on January 2, 2009

This is definitely worth a damages claim. If you want to make it go more easily, be willing to negotiate, as per notsnot and big open mouth. But define in advance a floor beneath which you won't budge, e.g. replacement of the futon.

I personally don't think the model lease from which Houstonian quotes applies here -- this is clearly a failure of landlord-responsible equipment and thus a result of maintenance (compared with, say, a street tree limb falling through the window, which would be more of an Act of God). Also note that in some states, such as Wisconsin, the landlord has certain legally-defined duties that cannot be abrogated through a lease (and in fact in Wisconsin such inclusions are justification for nullifying the lease itself).

The best way to approach this is with a business-like letter sent by certified mail to your landlord or agent. The letter should note the damages, note your expected compensation, and point out relevant statutes or lease clauses. This indicates that you are knowledgeable and not a pushover. In some jurisdictions you may have the right (in the event of failed negotiations) to rent abatement, but if you ever pursue this, you must follow all provisions in the relevant law so as not to put yourself at risk of eviction.
posted by dhartung at 11:10 PM on January 2, 2009

I was hoping the Chicago Municipal Code would be of help, and maybe it is.

(Click here. In the left pane, click Title 5. In the right pane, click Ch. 5-12. Then click 5-12-110.)

In 5-12-110, it lists many things that allow for tenant remedy. A few that might apply:
- Failure to maintain the structural integrity of the building or structure or parts thereof
- Failure to maintain heating facilities or gas-fired appliances in compliance with the requirements of the municipal code
- Failure to maintain floors, interior walls or ceilings in sound condition and good repair
- Failure to maintain and repair any equipment which the landlord supplies or is required to supply

So, if the landlord used the lease agreement provided by the Chicago Council of Lawyers, or one similar, the landlord is responsible for damages because they did not maintain the property to code.
posted by Houstonian at 5:36 AM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a little late... but I appreciate your help! I've written a letter asking if I can deduct the expenses from a future month's rent. I'm keeping it succinct but friendly, since I am generally satisfied with the building's maintenance and I think they handled the cleanup/patching of my ceiling very well. We'll see what happens!
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:07 PM on January 26, 2009

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